Casey Neistat’s David Dobrik documentary explores what occurs when creators cross the road – TechCrunch

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“There’s three completely different issues that make up a vlog,” David Dobrik, then a rising YouTube star, defined to Casey Neistat, a veteran YouTuber and filmmaker. Neistat’s digital camera pans to indicate a swimming pool, the place a member of Dobrik’s ensemble, the Vlog Squad, balances on a jet ski, making an attempt to toss a basketball from half-court distance over his shoulder and right into a hoop. “It’s like, attention-grabbing issues, cool visuals and humorous stuff. And this isn’t humorous except somebody will get harm.”

As David’s following grew, his stunts grew to become extra elaborate. Individuals bought harm. It wasn’t humorous.

When Neistat started filming his first feature-length documentary “Below the Affect” in 2019, the older, wiser YouTube star needed to seize the phenomenon of David Dobrik, the then-22-year-old and fifth most-viewed creator on the platform. Neistat adopted Dobrik as he moved into multi-million greenback houses, carried out for crowds of screaming faculty children and acquired his associates Teslas as casually as if treating them to lunch at Chipotle (the place they might have ordered Dobrik-branded burritos).

Now, as “Below the Affect” premieres at SXSW, Neistat is telling a far completely different story than the one he got down to doc. In reality, he threw out two years of post-production work as soon as his already-controversial muse grew to become a bonafide persona non grata on-line.

“I positively began the method of creating this film in good religion. I feel it was plain, David’s phenomenon. That’s to not reward the content material he was making itself, however actually, the phenomenon that was David was one thing completely extraordinary,” Neistat informed TechCrunch. “It was clear that his content material, I feel to say it generously, was strolling a really advantageous line, even again then.”

On the time, Dobrik was on high of the world, filming prank movies with celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Justin Bieber and transcending the bounds of social media to make visitor appearances on “Late Evening with Jimmy Fallon.” However his pedestal was constructed on the sheer luck that he bought away with so many harmful stunts. Finally, Dobrik went far sufficient that it toppled over.

Inside two years – as Neistat continued to doc – Dobrik discovered himself on the middle of two severe scandals. In March 2021, Insider reported {that a} girl in certainly one of his movies claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a Vlog Squad member on the night time they filmed a video about group intercourse.

Dobrik misplaced sponsorships with manufacturers like Good day Contemporary, SeatGeek, EA Sports activities and DoorDash, he was demonetized on YouTube, and he stepped down from Dispo, the venture-funded social photo-sharing app that he co-founded. Early buyers together with Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled dedicated to donate any potential earnings from their funding within the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault.

However all of the whereas, Dobrik was hiding one other secret: The 12 months earlier than, a dangerous stunt went so improper that his pal and collaborator Jeff Wittek almost died.

David Dobrik documentary film still

Picture Credit: Casey Neistat

“There was no such factor as a ‘energy dynamic’ to me”

Dobrik’s stunts have been at all times harmful. When Neistat first visits his mansion in 2019, Dobrik greets him on the door with a flamethrower, which he wields haphazardly round his house as if it’s a nerf gun.

“There was by no means a naivety on my half, even in my relationship with David, that every little thing was excellent,” Neistat informed TechCrunch. “A part of my curiosity in telling this story was to attempt to reveal how that is performed, and the way he tried to get away with what he was getting away with.”

But documenting the highs and lows of Dobrik’s at-times harmful pursuits is arguably its personal taste of sensationalism.

Early within the documentary, when Jonah (whose actual title is Nick Antonyan – he’s known as Jonah within the vlogs as a result of he seems to be like Jonah Hill, and his physique kind usually makes him the butt of hurtful jokes) drives a motorcycle over a ramp and right into a pool, he punctures a gap in his abdomen.

“Let’s get Jonah to the hospital, and David, let’s get this footage into enhancing,” a Vlog Squad member informed Dobrik.

Jonah proved to be okay after his journey to the emergency room, but this near-miss didn’t seem like a wakeup name for Dobrik, who continued to pursue the subsequent largest stunt, no matter whether or not it might put his associates – who additionally acted as enterprise collaborators – at risk.

“I keep in mind very clearly, one of many first questions I requested David was, ‘These those that we’ve seen in your movies, are they your pals or your coworkers?’ And his response, that’s included within the film, is… He hesitates,” Neistat mentioned. “It caught me off guard, as a result of I anticipated him to be nearly offended at that query.”

Dobrik’s newfound wealth gave him entry to flamethrowers, bikes, jet skis and heavy equipment for riskier stunts, however not like Hollywood, the place stunts are closely regulated on set, Dobrik was not required to rent security professionals, so he didn’t.

“It’s actually an comprehensible suggestion to attract parallels between the content material that David made and one thing like Jackass, however there’s one extraordinary, daring line between the 2, and that line is certainly one of consent,” Neistat informed TechCrunch. “Steve-o is a pal of mine, and each member of the ‘Jackass’ crew is aware of precisely what they’re signing up for. They know what the price goes to be to them bodily. They know what their legal responsibility is, they know what their return is, they know what the transaction is. It’s consensual, and I feel that’s the extraordinary distinction between the issues that you simply see on YouTube – particularly while you’re form of an ensemble solid of characters like David’s movies – and one thing like ‘Jackass.’”

After all, accidents nonetheless occur in Hollywood, however on YouTube, there’s no attainable means {that a} platform might regulate what occurs throughout filming, even when it needed to.

Though YouTube bans “harmful or threatening pranks,” the rule of thumb is normally solely enforced to cease folks from taking part in probably lethal viral challenges. When YouTube added the rule in 2019, the corporate particularly referenced tendencies like folks consuming Tide Pods or attempting to mild themselves on fireplace.

Whereas Dobrik’s pranks might (and did) trigger severe harm, his movies weren’t faraway from YouTube.

“We don’t permit pranks that make victims consider they’re in severe bodily hazard – for instance, a house invasion prank or a drive-by taking pictures prank,” YouTube wrote on the time. “We additionally don’t permit pranks that trigger kids to expertise extreme emotional misery, which means one thing so unhealthy that it might depart the kid traumatized for all times.”

Lots of YouTube’s largest stars have adopted this identical formulation – they begin with low-budget pranks, and as their channels choose up steam and produce them riches, there’s no boundary to the potential for his or her antics. It’s a type of wish-fulfillment for younger viewers – when you and your pals lived in an enormous mansion with limitless money, what mischief would you stand up to?

“This limitless pursuit of sensationalism is the place I feel somebody like David lives. The extra sensational it was, the crazier the stunts, the extra views it had,” Neistat mentioned. “A variety of creators on YouTube have pursued an analogous trajectory, and it has by no means ended effectively.”

YouTube’s high trending video of 2021 featured Jimmy Donaldson (MrBeast) following an analogous pursuit of sensationalism – he buried himself alive for 50 hours, although Donaldson did rent a medic to maintain watch on standby.

One other outstanding YouTuber, Logan Paul, confronted penalties for prioritizing shock worth over his accountability as a creator with a large platform. In dialog with TechCrunch, Neistat introduced up Paul’s “suicide forest” scandal, during which the YouTuber visited a Japanese forest identified to be a typical website of suicides and made jokes a few lifeless physique he encountered. YouTube minimize ties with Paul, who mentioned his poor judgment was a results of being “misguided by shock and awe.”

Equally, YouTube demonetized Dobrik’s channels within the aftermath of the sexual assault allegations in opposition to a member of his Vlog Squad. Just lately, Dobrik mentioned on his podcast that he nonetheless isn’t getting cash on YouTube. TechCrunch requested YouTube if Dobrik’s channels stay demonetized, however didn’t obtain a response.

On display screen, Neistat asks Dobrik, “There’s one thing gross a few man utilizing his social media platform and his affect to draw younger girls, and you then make a video out of it. Did any of that happen to you as improper or inappropriate?”

“At the moment, there was no such factor as a ‘energy dynamic’ to me,” Dobrik replies within the documentary – an admission that he by no means thought of how his place as a super-sized social media star might change the best way folks interacted with him. “I didn’t see that as something bizarre. Wanting again at it now, it’s actually gross.”

David Dobrik documentary film still

Picture Credit: Casey Neistat

“I needs to be lifeless”

A month after the Insider article was printed, one other bomb dropped: Vlog Squad member Jeff Wittek revealed in his personal YouTube documentary that, the earlier 12 months, Dobrik had swung him round on an excavator. The development tools requires a license to function, and Dobrik didn’t have that or another security supervision for the stunt.

Dobrik subsequently misplaced management of the heavy equipment and, as Neistat depicts in a horrifyingly gory scene, Wittek slams into the aspect of the crane and breaks open the aspect of his face. Since then, Wittek has had not less than 9 eye surgical procedures and minimize ties with Dobrik, who continues to pay his medical payments.

“I shouldn’t be right here anymore,” Wittek tells Neistat within the movie. “I needs to be lifeless.”

Neistat informed TechCrunch that Dobrik has seen the documentary, however they haven’t spoken about it – in truth, they haven’t spoken since their last interview, which occurred after Insider printed sexual assault allegations in opposition to Dobrik’s collaborator. TechCrunch requested Dobrik’s crew for touch upon the movie, however didn’t hear again earlier than publication.

“Jeff’s accident had an amazing influence on how I used to be conducting interviews, and my skilled relationship with David,” Neistat mentioned. “After which when Kat’s article got here out, that was a dramatic, dramatic shift in how the film was captured.”

“It was very heavy, and you’ll hear within the tone of my voice simply the way it form of grew to become a bit bit extra contentious, and I grew to become extra confrontational with him. In that last interview, I feel one of many first questions I requested him was, ‘Do you are feeling accountable?’”

In a podcast printed days earlier than “Below the Affect” would premiere at SXSW, Dobrik expressed regret for these egregious incidents, which the documentary facilities round. But within the documentary, he doesn’t appear to know the implications of his errors.

“The [Insider article] was written as a result of this place needed clicks, like, it wasn’t written as a result of the corporate’s going and taking care of the sufferer and ensuring she’s okay,” Dobrik mentioned to Neistat within the documentary.

Just a few weeks in the past, Wittek made a podcast episode known as “Expensive David…” about why he was now not associates with the determine who propelled him to fame.

“I’ll have life-long mind accidents, and I saved him from fucking every little thing. He might’ve bought deported, he might’ve bought put in jail for manslaughter, he might’ve bought sued for every little thing,” Wittek mentioned on his podcast. “I took it on the chin, after which to see [the documentary]… that simply made me utterly lose all respect for this man, and lose all hope he might ever flip round and change into a greater particular person.”

Dobrik’s profession has actually taken a large hit, however he continues to publish on YouTube, the place he nonetheless has 18.3 million subscribers. He even has a Discovery present known as “Discovering David Dobrik,” a docuseries during which he travels the world together with his associates. The present was introduced and filmed after each of those scandals got here to mild.

Even in his first interview with Dobrik, Neistat noticed that the younger star appeared haggard and overworked. “It’s prescient to see it now,” Neistat informed TechCrunch. Nevertheless it’s not a coincidence that so many high YouTubers like Dobrik, Donaldson and Paul observe this identical trajectory: they attempt to make every video extra participating than the final, however finally, there appears to be simply two paths. Both you burn out, otherwise you make a career-altering mistake earlier than you are taking a beat to decelerate.

“I feel that there’s at all times a pursuit. It’s related for a musician – how do you retain your music attention-grabbing?” Neistat mentioned. “However what makes people like David Dobrik completely different is that their pursuit just isn’t popping out with the subsequent track or making the subsequent film. Their pursuit is how can I be extra sensationalist? And that may be a very, very, very harmful pursuit, as a result of the minute you obtain one thing that was crazier than the final, you then must go previous that.”


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